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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Interview with ... Anna Jacobs

This is an interview I conducted with Anna Jacobs for a feature article in the Romance Writers of New Zealand's Heart to Heart magazine (May 2010 issue). I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed doing it!

Anna Jacobs

R*BY finalist and multiple Golden Web Award winner, Anna Jacobs writes historical romances and sagas and modern family relationship novels, science fiction/fantasy as Shannah Jay and the occasional book under her own name Sherry-Anne Jacobs.

Born in Lancashire, UK, Sherry-Anne Jacobs emigrated to Western Australia in 1973 where she now lives, south of Perth, with her husband of 30 years, a computer and a library of several thousand books. Kept busy with her writing schedule, Anna also enjoys holding workshops to help fellow writers.
Working with Hodder & Stoughton, UK and Severn House for nearly 20 years, and with almost 50 books to her credit, Anna takes time out from her busy schedule to share her thoughts with us.

Thanks for agreeing to be one of our feature author, Anna!

What inspires you to write?
I don’t think ‘inspire’ is the right word. It’s rather that there’s something inside me welling up and I have to let it out ie the stories. And of course, by now I’m addicted to story-telling, which is how I think of what I do mainly. Has anyone warned you that writing is addictive?  Very. 

You write Lancashire sagas, modern novels and futuristic. Do you have trouble skipping from one genre to another? Do you have a favourite genre you like writing the most?
I love writing all of them, though I’m not at the moment writing futuristic. I had 5 futuristic novels published as Shannah Jay and would love to write more, but just don’t have the time. I alternate between modern novels and sagas. The sagas are not just set in Lancashire now. Quite a few of them are set in Western Australia. Actually, I love writing both sorts of story and I NEED the variety of writing both sorts, too, to keep my mind stimulated and active. It’d be boring to do the same sort of thing all the time. I’ve seen authors grow stale and write same old, same old, and I’m terrified of doing that, which is why I have two ‘wise readers’ who read my stories before I ever send them to my agent or publisher. My wise readers are sworn not to mince words!

What does your writing day consist of?
I get up about 5.20 am, not because I’m being virtuous, but because I wake naturally at that time. When I wake, I’m fully alert, so it’s a waste of time lying in bed. I answer emails, which is part pleasure, part business and part networking. Then I get breakfast and shower, after which I play cards on the computer. For some weird reason, this settles my brain into writing mode. (It’s something to do with left and right sides of the brain. One needs a very relaxing activity to foster the creativity.) I then dive into writing by re-reading and polishing what I wrote yesterday. I love doing that. Polishing is my favourite writing task of all. Afterwards I carry on telling the story and add about 2,000 words in a typical day.

I break at regular intervals to do odd household chores eg the washing but I don’t have a housework gene, so I don’t take it to excess. I do not iron or dust. One has to have standards!  I’d move anyway because it’s very bad for the human body to sit in the same position for hours on end. I never stay still for more than an hour and so far (touch wood) in spite of doing writing and writing-related ‘stuff’ for about 10 hours a day, I’ve not got any repetitive damage to my body.

I also, if I’m lucky, wake regularly in the night and ‘see’ scenes, which is very helpful. It’s as near as I come to plotting.

I don’t think there is any time when I don’t have a story simmering in my mind. My husband is a musician and it’s the same with him about music. It’s always there.

My agent and three publishers (I just added a new one) are in England so they are 7 or 8 hours behind in time difference. Business emails come in overnight or after teatime. So I don’t switch off the computer until 7 or 8, well after teatime. I never know when I’ll get something that’s urgent to reply to, you see.

And then there’s research. That too is always with me, whether it’s for historical or modern stories. And reader emails - I get more than two a day.

You mentioned on your website that you read at least 3 novels a week. Do you have an author you like to read? What are you reading right now? How does this help you as a writer?
I have a lot of authors I like to read. I enjoy a variety but not gruesome or nasty stuff. And it has to have a happy ending. Quirky is nice, too. Georgette Heyer is my favourite and I re-read her books every now and then. From today’s authors, I like Nora Roberts (but not her gruesome ones, nor JD Robb), Sherryl Woods, C J Cherryh, Barbara Delinsky, Robyn Carr, and the new Aussie author Bronwyn Parry. Her two books are fabulous. I hope she writes a lot more. At the moment I’m reading a research book about Fremantle and Jill Mansell’s ‘Thinking About You’, but am waiting for ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ a quirky English book that my husband got hold of when it arrived and as he’s a slow reader ie.takes a week or so to read a book, I’m waiting impatiently for him to finish it.

As well as entertaining me, reading a lot of books helps feed my imagination, which is essential. It also shows me what’s been done to death as a plot and what sorts of plots are popular now. This is market research. 

You have a number of sagas among your booklist. What methods do you use to research your novels (eg. online, travel, personal experience etc.)?
I did a university unit covering my period in history before I started - there was a particularly good history lecturer here at the time. I buy and read a lot of research books. I have notebooks full of notes eg a file for each century and a page for each year on which I write notes about ‘titbits’ of history that I can follow up if I write a book set then.

Nowadays I research on line a lot, but you have to be careful whose web site it is ie. credibility. I sometimes write to website owners asking for further help. In the book that’s coming out in July in the UK (Beyond the Sunset) I had a cart crash and I did that via the Novelists Inc website. (This is an international organization for multi-published authors.) Someone on Ninc always knows the answer or where to find the answer. My ideas of a cart crash were not at all correct, but with the help of some great people in the US, whom someone on Ninc sent me to, I redid the cart crash. It’s correct now. Took me three days to crash that cart.

I start collecting research material well before I write a book. With modern novels, it’s often pieces from newspapers or articles I’ve found on line. There is always something to check out. I try very hard not to make mistakes. I often get story ideas from my non-focused research. For example, many years ago, I read about a shipload of Lancashire cotton workers being brought out to Western Australia as maids, because the American Civil War had stopped supplies of cotton and therefore there was no work in Lancashire. I filed that away mentally for future reference. Some time later I found a book of memoirs, written in the 1870s by a lady who came to Western Australia on the same ship, so it seemed meant to be that I told the story that begins in FAREWELL TO LANCASHIRE and is continued in BEYOND THE SUNSET.

What themes do you like exploring in your books?
I don’t think about them as ‘themes’ but stories. I write about relationships and families mostly, whether it’s historical or modern or futuristic, and always with a romance included, or even two or three romances, because I don’t like to leave my minor characters lonely. I don’t write ‘pure’ romances, where the romance itself is the plot, but rather ‘romantic’ books where a romance is integral but something else is the plot. They’re complex tales with several sub-plots usually.

And another on the same topic - what influences how many books make up a saga – your fans, your editor, you, a combination of all three?
The editor always has the final word about what will be published. But . . . the story itself is the main decider as to whether I suggest a series or not. I start some stories with the intention of having 2 or 3 books, because there’s a lot of material around. Other stories suddenly seem to beg continuation, so I carry on writing when I hadn’t intended to. I try not to go beyond 3 in a series, but with my first series my agent said I could get two more books out of it, making 5, and I did. Phew! Talk about baptism of fire as a writer!

Nowadays the editor and publisher’s marketing teams combine and have a big influence on what I write. I tend to submit a story idea and discuss it a little - I can’t do outlines because I don’t know what happens after the setup. The book I’m currently writing features a secondary character from DESTINY'S PATH (book 3 and final of my current series).  Bram was so vivid I just had to write his story afterwards.

I don’t tend to do series of books for my modern stories, though I’m thinking about it for a current idea. 

From your experience, what conventions have the most potential career impact for writers – conferences, workshops, writing groups, critique partners etc.? Have any of these affected/helped you?
For me, it’s my inner self that has the most impact. I can’t not write. But it’s the readers who make the most difference to a career, and I never forget that. If they don’t like you and your stories, you can go to every conference on earth and it’ll make no difference.

That said I do go to conferences and greatly enjoy networking. I meet some wonderful people - I still remember the conference I went to in NZ with great fondness.

Workshops - well, most conferences don’t have workshops suitable for authors of nearly 50 novels. Novelists Inc does, but they’re in the US and sadly it’s just too far a trip with my bad back. The Romantic Novelists Association of the UK does, as it’s primarily an organization for published authors. I can go to their conferences now, since we’ve just started living part of the year in the UK.

My critique group is very important indeed to me. They’re a wonderful, perceptive bunch of women and I was very lucky that they turned up out of the blue when I was starting up a new group in my home town. We’ve been together for a while now and I value their opinions greatly. The online email lists are very helpful too.

People working towards publication should be aware that it’s quality of writing that counts most of all and focus on that, and what will improve their work. Only they can tell, because everyone has different needs as a writer.

What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
Um . . . I can’t think of one. Every interview has its own flavour and I enjoy that. Really, it’s best to let the interviewer ask, as she/he knows what she’s looking for and knows her audience.

What new books are due for release this year?
I have four books coming out in July in the UK, a little later elsewhere unless you buy them (post free) from www.bookdepository.co.uk . Two of them are paperbacks whose hardbacks have been out for a while, the other two are brand new stories, hardbacks:

1. BEYOND THE SUNSET - hardback, new story, historical set in 1860s, second in the Cotton Lasses series, following on 'Farewell to Lancashire'. It’s in NZ shops now in a trade paperback.
2. FAREWELL TO LANCASHIRE – is now a mass-market paperback, book one in the Cotton Lasses series.
3. LICENSE TO DREAM – available in hardback, and is a modern novel, new story, set mainly in Western Australia. Meriel has wanted to become an artist, but her mother forced her to become an accountant. When she wins Lotto she can realise her dream. Ben wants to landscape a big country block next to his - only Meriel owns it now.

4. IN FOCUS – is a trade paperback, modern story, set in the UK. Beth sees a TV show where a computer program regresses people to what they were like as a child. She's shocked to realise the host is her baby brother, who vanished without a trace 38 years ago.

Keeps me out of mischief!

Lastly, what’s next for Anna Jacobs?
Who knows? Hard work, certainly. I’ve got a new publisher, so now have three publishers in the UK. I’m certainly writing faster. Much faster. By the end of April I’ll have written two books since 18 December, long books, though the second one will be only in ‘dirty draft’ and will still need polishing. Maybe I’ll need a new writing name if I continue to speed up?

This will be our third year of living 5 months in the UK, 7 months in Australia, so my UK life/PR/etc is changing. I’m doing more PR over there, making more contacts, am able to do more research and am able to interact personally with my agent and editors. It’s all very exciting.

And of course, we’re all going to be affected by the rapidly expanding sales of ebooks, aren’t we? Life never stands still. Thank goodness or it’d be boring. 

Thanks for this interview, Anna, it’s been a pleasure having you here! 

If you'd like to learn more about Anna you can visit her website. 

Anna’s latest book, BEYOND THE SUNSET, available in hardback, is her new historical set in the 1860’s, the second in the Cotton Lasses series, and follows FAREWELL TO LANCASHIRE.

BEYOND THE SUNSET is also a milestone in Anna's career - it's her 50th published novel! Congratulations!


  1. Hi Kylie and Anna. I had the good fortune to be at the RWNZ conference Anna attended in New Zealand some years back. I loved listening to her speak and learnt a lot. Thanks for this lovely interview!

  2. Another excellent interview, Kylie and Anna!

    Wonderful to see the diversity of your stories, Anna - I'm in awe of your busy schedule :-)

  3. Hi Leigh - Anna was a hoot to interview and isn't it fabulous to see the longevity of her career - amazing!

  4. Helene, Anna is an inspiration, isn't she?!?! :-)

  5. What a fantastic interview. I really enjoyed this, so thanks, Anna and Kylie.

    Anna, I ADORED Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. It was a gorgeous book.

    And many, many congratulations on reaching 50 published novels. What a wonderful achievement. You are a true inspiration.

    Thanks again.

  6. Anna, as always you are a true inspiration. Congrats on your 50th!!!